COOK FOREST — The Cook Forest Conservancy is a non-profit group that uses education and partnerships with other groups to proactively aid and preserve the forest ecosystems.

Kelly Culberston started the organization in 2017 to help protect the forest and educate the surrounding community on how to keep the forest healthy. Her family is from Cooksburg, and she wants to help the forest.

The Cook Forest Conservancy is currently focused on promoting education, controlling invasive plants and insects, coordinating efforts among private, non-profit, and government entities, and connecting landowners with information on sustainable forestry and planning.

“I found it in 2017 in response to the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid problem, that is an invasive bug that basically sucks the life out of Helmock,” Culbertson said.

She said the population decreased by heavy winters a couple years ago, but the recent mild winter allowed the bug to start making a comeback. Culbertson said the bugs reproduce exponentially.

“What we’re trying to do is inoculate the trees. Keep them healthy until there is a balance of bugs like there is in the Pacific Northwest, because it’s out there but it doesn’t kill their hemlocks because they have predators. We don’t,” Culbertson said.

CFC and the Friends of Cook Forest work together toward the same goals of preserving the nature of the park, but from different areas. Culbertson said the Friends of Cook Forest operate under the Department of Conservation of Natural Resources as a government entity. Culbertson and CFC work more with private landowners to educate them on how they can help.

The organization works with the park office and all the agencies on projects to combat invasive species as the main focus, currently.

“I can also work with private landowners, because the problem is the bugs and invasive plants don’t respect political borders. So, if you’re only treating in the park and yet the 20 acres behind it’s totally infested, it’s just going to keep re-infesting,” Culbertson said.

A big project CFC is working on this year is replacing trail bridges in the park. A company was going to come make a topographical map of the forest, but can’t without the bridges being open.

She said the health of the ecosystem and people’s ability to access it should be the park priorities. The park estimates the bridges might be replaced in two years.

CFC is now continuing educational programs since events are allowed to be hosted again. The events require pre-registration at this time because attendance must be limited because of the coronavirus.

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